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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Death penalty opponents heading to Columbus, Ohio

Ohio's death penalty is on hold, but the delay won't prevent more than 100 local anti-capital punishment activists from boarding buses Tuesday morning for a lobby day in Columbus.

Converging on the Statehouse from across Ohio, protesters will meet with lawmakers and present a letter signed by 200 faith leaders calling for an end to the death penalty.

"We are concerned with the injustices built into the system," said Sister Andrea Koverman, a Catholic nun and program manager at Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Over-the-Rhine. "It is applied unfairly based on race, economics and geography."

Hamilton County has historically populated Ohio's death row in disproportionate numbers. Of the 139 convicted murders on death row today -- 138 men -- 24 are from Hamilton County and 21 from Cuyahoga County. Hamilton County's 0.6 executions per 100 homicide victims is double the rate of Cuyahoga and nine times that of Franklin County, home of metropolitan Columbus.

In October, Ohio delayed all scheduled executions until Jan. 12, 2017, when Ronald R. Phillips of Summit County is scheduled to die.

The delay resulted from Ohio's difficulty in obtaining lethal drugs that are necessary to carry out executions. The state's corrections department employed a combination of a sedative and a painkiller in the January 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire, of Preble County. The process took 25 minutes, and witnesses said McGuire seized and gasped for 15 minutes. He was convicted for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman in 1993.

Ohio has scheduled 25 executions, beginning in January, and eight of the condemned were sentenced in Hamilton County.

Ohio has executed 53 people since resuming capital punishing in 1999. A recent University of North Carolina study found that in 65 percent of the executions, the victim was white, although statewide 43 percent of all homicide victims are white. Additionally, murderers of white females are six times more likely to be executed than those people who kill black males.

Supporters of the death penalty in the Ohio General Assembly are determined to continue with capital punishment, even as the acquisition of sodium thiopental becomes more difficult. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections that attempts to buy the drug internationally would violate federal law.

In December 2014, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill that would provide 20-year confidentiality for pharmacies that prepared lethal formulations. Some Ohio lawmakers openly discussed the use of firing squads to carry out death sentences.

The sense in Columbus is once lethal drugs can be acquired legally that executions will resume.

Kasich has not wavered in his support of the death penalty, saying in a 2015 interview with NBC, "Listen, I review all the cases. And some people I've said we will let them stay for life in prison if I wasn't certain of who did what. ... I support the death penalty and will continue to do that, because a lot of times, families want closure and want to see justice done."

Kasich has commuted the death sentences of five inmates since 2011.


Source: cincinnati.com, April 11, 2016

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